Sunday, July 18, 2004

Tanglewood Moments

Tanglewood is the kind of place where ghosts appear. Where the past, present and future of classical music exist simultaneously. We are performing our opera in the same theater that held the US premiere of Britten's Peter Grimes, argued by some to be his greatest work. Leonard Berstein wrote Candide in the little red house just off the road from the main grounds. The number of world class artists who have spent time on these hills, many as Fellow like myself, is humbling.

And many of them come back, often and unexpectedly. Yesterday we had the annual Sponsor's Luncheon, where each Fellow is introduced to his Sponsor. (Each Fellowship is funded by a $250K endowment, the interest of which covers the $15K annual fee.) Afterwards, I was standing with a small group of singers; several of us had (at the urging of the caterers!) taken the potted begonias that were the centerpiece at our table. We noticed a decidedly Sponsor-looking couple walking by, also with begonias in their hands, and started a conversation about the flowers. The gentleman then said, "Are you all in 'the Dream?'" We said that we were, and made casual introductions of our roles. We had been chatting about the production when, all of a sudden, the faces of two of the guys went from polite interest to complete awe. They had read this man's name tag, and he was Benjamin Luxon, one of the greatest lyric baritones of the past 40 years. Being a singer who rarely listens to classical music, I didn't recognize his name, but I knew from Alex and Stefan's reaction that he was opera royalty! He and his wife were so gracious, inviting us to come spend our "free time" at their home nearby.

They also attended the afternoon rehearsal of the opera. Before leaving, Mr. Luxon pulled me aside and gave me a few tips. (Afterall, while he didn't premiere a roll in this opera, he did work with many original cast memebers and Britten himself. I figure his advice is worth taking to heart!) When he urged me to take more time with the musical "sighs" at the end of my scene in Act II, I told him I was afraid of being gauche. "Oh, be gauche! Be gauche, be gauche," he said. So I have permission! We'll see how far I can take it next time before my coaches reign me in.

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